I’ve long had an interest in the history of Shenandoah National Park, just a few hours west of us–and this past weekend we found a way to get up close and personal. On a last minute whim, we decided to take a quick overnight trip to Doyles River Cabin. The cabin was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1936–the same year that the Park was established–and is now managed as a rental property by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC).
As you probably know, the CCC was created during the Depression as a way to provide employment, housing, and food to young men that were facing grim job prospects. CCC “enrollees” were paid roughly $30/month to built roads and bridges and cabins and more. They built a lot of structures still standing in the park (many of the original structures were removed when settlers were forced out by the state of Virginia to create the park; more on that here).
CCC boys leaving camp for home. Photo courtesy of Oregon State University, public domain
CCC Company 2530 Building a road. Photo courtesy of Edmund R. Golladay, public domain
Meal time at Camp Roosevelt, just up the road. Photo courtesy of Oregon State University, public domain
CCC Camp Kitchen Crew. Photo courtesy of Oregon State University, public domain
A CCC Barracks. Photo courtesy of Edmund R. Golladay, public domain
CCC laying stone for a road, 1933. Photo courtesy of National Archives, public domain
The CCC did a lot of work across the country. In addition to roads and bridges and cabins, they also planted trees, built flood and erosion control projects, erected fire towers, stocked trout—basically did whatever they could to improve the infrastructure of our country.
More than three million young men enrolled in the CCC, including some that later went on to great notoriety–like baseball Hall of Famer Stan Musial and Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager (I’m imagining fireside chats about curveballs at the speed of sound).
Stan Musial in 1953, from Bowman Baseball cards, public domain
Chuck Yeager in front of the Bell X-1, 1940s. Photo courtesy of US Air Force, public domain
Doyles River Cabin is a primitive (no power or water) one-room structure, but it is sturdy and accommodating and in a great location. It also has a lovely covered porch and a beautiful view. PATC has done a nice job maintaining it, and we were thrilled that it was available on short notice.
The hike to the cabin is just a half mile from Skyline Drive. And with such an easy hike, we figured we could carry some fancy food (shocking for us, I know). We brought a small cooler bag full of our dinner, along with some frozen water bottles to keep things cold (figuring we could drink/dump the water before heading home). We did most of the food prep ahead of time, including cracking and freezing some scrambled eggs (for Sunday breakfast) in a Nalgene bottle.
We dropped our food and overnight gear at the cabin and then headed down trail another mile or so to Doyles River Falls (very pretty, despite the low-flow conditions). We shared the trail with a bunch of friendly folks, and saw quite a bit of bear scat. The black bear population is growing in the park, although we weren’t lucky enough to see one on this trip.
After our hike, we spent time lounging around the cabin and soaking in the view.
Souzz loving the hammock
For dinner, we fried up some trout (just as the CCC might have done), made our favorite frybake French potato dish, Potato Gratin Savoyard (probably not what the CCC would have done), and enjoyed steamed mussels (definitely not what the CCC would have done).
Cheese and prosciutto from our favorite local wine shop, Arrowine
Raw Acacia Honeycomb honey, from the Savannah Bee Company
Souzz assembling the Potato Gratin Savoyard, a backcountry favorite of ours
Fried trout, anyone?
Cooking on the nice stonework
Potato Gratin Savoyard, ready to be baked
Potat Gratin Savoyard, done!
As we cooked dinner, we admired the stonework and hand hewn logs that make up the cabin, as well as the beautiful view of the night sky. It’s pretty amazing to think that Doyles River Cabin has been providing cozy nights under the moonlight for 80+ years. The cabin looks fantastic for its age–which apparently is only a compliment if you are talking about a cabin (ask me how I know).
Souzz and our little cooler
Nice night sky
colors changed by the minute
Something magical about a fire
Breakfast sausage (and eggs in the bottle to the left)
There’s something rewarding about finding an adventure close to home—and even more so when it includes a bit of history and a nice menu. And we have the mussels to prove it.
I’ve wanted to visit the Chesapeake Bay’s Tangier Island ever since I read a travel article about it back in the 1990s. The island was first charted in 1608, and its history is completely outsized for a place that is less than 1/2 of a square mile in land mass. The human history stretches from Native Americans through the Revolutionary War and on through to the watermen of the 1800s and 1900s—and many of those same families continue to ply the bay for crabs and oysters to this day.
First view of Tangier
Approaching the main harbor
Lots of crab pots
There has been an explosion of interest in Tangier in the past few years, primarily because it is eroding into the bay at an alarming pace. About two thirds of the island has disappeared since the 1850s, and the rate of loss is now accelerating. Whether the cause is climate change or a natural cycle is a subject of some debate among the islanders–but one thing that most residents can agree about is their desire to preserve the island.
Crab pots in the main harbor
Our weekend overnight visit wasn’t motivated at all by erosion; quite to the contrary, we were drawn by the sameness of the place. Tangier is disconnected and isolated from the mainland by ten miles of open water, so “conventional” change has been slow to come. And that is definitely a strong part of its draw.
We headed to Tangier on the ferry out of Crisfield, Maryland, on a scorching hot Saturday with our good friends Lou and Kay. We shared our boat with a big gathering of day-trippers from nearby Dorchester County (maybe 100+ people in their group, very friendly, from two local churches).
The Steven Thomas, out of Crisfield
Leaving the mainland behind
A busy ride
Sharing a ride with a lot of new friends
Everything here is ours, except the trash can
Lou as we approach Tangier
Once at the dock in Tangier, we watched as folks streamed into the few restaurants and the nearby ice cream shop, overwhelming the town and swelling its population by 20% (from 400 to 500+) for a few very busy hours.
While our fellow travelers enjoyed lunch and bought a souvenir or two, we headed to the south end of the island to spend some time on the beach. And when we got back to town, most had already left for Crisfield on the 4pm boat.
The lovely beach at the south end
Looking to the south
Water temp was perfect
The islanders are friendly and patient, and they clearly benefit from tourism. But I caught myself thinking that it could get old to be looked on as a curiosity, especially when big groups of tourists overrun the place. So we tried to be mindful of that as we made our way through town. After all, we were tourists, too.
We enjoyed the softshell crabs at Lorraines
Softshell crabs, Tangier style
Anyway, once the big group was gone, it felt like we got a truer glimpse of Tangier. The restaurants weren’t packed, the streets were quiet, and the locals were still friendly and patient—but with a bit more time to share, and at a pace that one resident described as “island time.”
Just wide enough for a golf cart
Looking down the main street
City center, absent the tour boat crowds
A nice quick way to get around
Lou and Kay enjoy the sunset
Watermen’s communities are amazingly quiet at night
As for the town itself, there are a few places to eat, a handful of shops, bike and golf cart rentals, and a few B&Bs–including theBay View Innand its wonderful hosts, Maureen, Jim and David. The Bay View Inn’s owners treated us like family from the start, even though tourists on Tangier are often called “come-heres” in local parlance. Lou and I took their cue about family and began teasing each other like teenage brothers, which culminated in a breakfast haiku contest that probably isn’t fit for a family blog. But what’s a weekend without a little combat haiku?
Bay View Inn
Some of the rooms, along with the main deck
Our accommodations, with a lovely porch
Enjoying a lovely breakfast, just before combat haiku broke out
Looking out towards town from the Bay View Inn
Rooms are nice and clean
Kay, Maureen, son David, and Souzz
A good sense of Lou’s (and my) maturity level
As one would expect, things are simple on the island, and there aren’t a lot of amenities. There’s almost no cell reception, and you need to be willing to get a little wet and a little hot and maybe fight a few bugs to really explore the place. Tangier is a beautiful island in the middle of a bay–but it’s not Nantucket, and by all indications it doesn’t aspire to be.
A walking (or cart-riding) map of the town
A nice map of the water trails
Souzz ready to kayak
Taking a break from kayaking
You can see the water tower from most anywhere
Headed back to town
A look back at the town from the south
In addition to the excellent sea kayaking (kayaks are available at no charge from the Bay View Inn), a highlight of our visit was a tour of a crab shanty in the main harbor. Ookire Eskridge, a life-long waterman and the town’s mayor, was our tour guide. He was very friendly and very patient (and funny) as he explained what has been his livelihood for decades. The amount of time and effort that it takes to harvest a soft-shell crab is astounding, and I’ll never eat another one again without thinking of Ookire and his shanty.
Ookire at the helm of his Chesapeake Bay deadrise (crab boat)
Ookire shows Kay a molting softshell
A “peeler” in the middle of molting. The resulting crab is far larger than its shell, amazing
Souzz and I enjoy our ride out to the shanty
Kay and Lou
Inside the shanty, Ookire’s home away from home
Crabs are moved from pen to pen depending on their stage of molting
Ookire shows us a male hardshell
Live softshells, or “peelers,” ready to head to market in New York City
Looking down the holding pens
A large male “adopts” a female peeler and protects her while she molts
It’s impossible to understand any place, especially one as complex as Tangier, in a simple overnight trip–but we really enjoyed the opportunity to try. We found the islanders to be kind, independent, resourceful, and proud, and there is a very strong sense of community. A few quick examples: there is a list on the church bulletin board of residents that are “shut-ins” (to encourage regular visits), there was amazing teamwork moving supplies at the dock, and looking for Ookire to arrange our tour involved (unsolicited) help from at least five people.
Tangier School, home to about 60 students K through 12
A mix of locals and tourists like us
Swain Memorial Methodist Church, the focal point of the island (1899, on a site dating to 1842)
Beautiful stained glass
Tangier has a long history of military service
Swain Methodist Cemetery. Many graves here date to the mid-1800s
Another view of the cemetery
This is also a community that cares a lot about their island. Many (most? all?) are eager for a sea wall that can help to keep the bay at bay (one resident jokingly asked me to bring two buckets of dirt the next time that I visited). A sea wall is a complicated question these days, but there’s no doubt that Tangier is a treasure.
Many bridges connect the three ridges that make up Tangier
The water tower, Tangier’s most visible landmark
Nice interpretive signs dot the main street
The history museum is well worth the stop
Quite a rich history here
Seems pretty recent to ge betting power
Artifacts from an era gone by (or has it?)
Every trap is hand made
A look at the museum
Sunday afternoon–and our ride home–came too quickly, despite the heat and a little bit of sunburn. These trivial things were just a hint of the challenges and the hard work that it takes to make a living on Tangier–and that doesn’t even take into account the many moods of the open water on the bay.
The water tower, Tangier’s most visible landmark
Many bridges connect the three ridges that make up Tangier
Tangier School, home to about 60 students K through 12
When people can somehow stay the same in an ever-changing world, it sets them apart, and not always in a good way (I think of my cousin’s old-style fanny pack, or Aunt Angela’s tube top). But in Tangier’s case, it’s a good thing, and Tangier is an extremely unique place.
My brother is a great writer and he tells me that there are not “degrees of uniqueness,” that something is either unique or it isn’t. But he’s never been to Tangier.
Souzz and I often spend New Year’s Eve in the backcountry or in a cabin, and we traditionally make risotto (along with some other fancy dish). The standard bearer of New Year’s absurdity was probably the year that we made risotto with lobster in a five burner kitchen while camping in the snow. We didn’t quite reach that level of absurdity this year, but we at least thought about it.
Lobsters in the snow
Souzz and our friend Sara
Anyway, with cold rain in the 2019 forecast, we decided to head to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s Dawson Cabin in Pennsylvania, about two hours drive from our home in Virginia. Dawson is one of the lesser visited cabins in the PATC system, maybe because the hike to the cabin is straight uphill. But the hike is short, and Dawson is a hidden gem that is worth the visit. The cabin is well appointed and very well maintained, and it has southern exposure and a beautiful view.
Approaching the cabin
Lots of windows across the front, so nice light
Roomy and bright
Very well maintained and supplied
Lots of supplies
All of the bedding needs to be caged when the cabin isn’t being used
It was too rainy for us to use this, but in nicer weather it’d be great
Looking back from the bunks
A concrete foundation and nice outdoor space
puzzles for a rainy day
For our planned risotto and filet mignon feast, we hauled in a lot of cookware, as well as a five pound canister of propane and a two-burner camp stove. Utility wagons are a great tool for getting bulky gear into walk-in PATC cabins—but dragging them uphill through the mud and over tree roots in the rain might be an acquired taste.
The start of the trail
Arriving at the cabin as the rain stopped!
When we reached the cabin, we discovered that there was a problem with the regulator on the camp stove, so the stove and propane were basically flammable barbells. The issue was clearly beyond what I could field-repair, and fiddling with high-pressure gas connections is exciting in any circumstance–but especially so in a remote wood-framed structure. I’m also kind of fond of my eyebrows.
As a consolation, at least we had some good appetizers.
Appetizers were easy, though! This is olives, feta, lemon peel, olive oil, garlic
Prosciutto…oh, and beer!
With appetizers gone and still five hours to New Year’s, we had a new twist: how to make risotto without a modern camp stove. But there was a perfectly serviceable wood stove sitting right at our feet, so how hard could this be?
Tending a wood stove is always important in a PATC cabin in winter, although the goal is usually just heating the place. But now we had to figure out a way to keep the heat somewhat constant.
Chopping onions, nothing special
Sauteeing onions in olive oil
Mixing in rosemary
Coating the arborio rice
Wood stoves used to be the only stoves we had, right?
Looking very holiday
Starting to shape up
Ok, so I get that wood stoves have been around for generations, and my friends in bush Alaska are probably rolling their eyes by now (well, at least Ruby is…but in my defense, I don’t remember seeing a lot of risotto on “Life Below Zero“).
It took a little fiddling to maintain the level of heat on the cooktop, and there were times when we had to cool things off by lifting the pan onto a hastily made wire trivet (using a piece from a broken dartboard that we found in the cabin).
And more broth…
But we figured it out, and the risotto was quite good. And the keys to good risotto are the same whether on a modern range or on a wood stove: using homemade stock (way less salty), heating the stock quite a bit before adding, and cooking the risotto at high heat (ideally enough heat to finish the job in less than 20 minutes). With too little heat, things take a long time and the risotto gets sticky.
Lastly, our stove challenge gave us the chance to puzzle over why we go to primitive cabins and then haul in hundreds of pounds of fancy gear. That seems about as logical as getting the turbo option when you buy a Ford Fiesta. So maybe simplifying things should be our New Year’s Resolution? Well, that and preserving my eyebrows.
Souzz’s Christmas gift was an inflatable chair (she got me an Apple watch, whoops).
I’ve wanted to hike hut-to-hut in Switzerland for years, but planning such a trip always seemed like a daunting task. For starters, there are more than 150 huts in the Swiss Alpine Club system, which seemed totally overwhelming. And the language barrier for someone that doesn’t speak Swiss German is big, as almost all of the websites and information are in Swiss German (go figure).
Enter our good friends Reto and Annika, who live near Zurich and know a thing or two about these huts. They helped us plan a three day trip of about 30 kilometers on the Greina Plateau in the south central part of Switzerland–and by “helped us plan,” I mean that they planned it. Best of all, Reto came along (perhaps he thought we could use a chaperone?).
Reto and Souzz at Rheinfall, near Zurich
Annika and her best friend (oh, wait, I think that’s Reto)
Getting from Zurich to the trailhead near Vrin was ambitious enough, requiring four hours, three train rides, three cups of coffee, two bus rides, and a kilometer of walking up a village road.
Along the way
The marker is Vrin
Reto scouts future trips
On the train
In the village of Vrin
The start to our hike
From the trailhead, it was about 9 kilometers and 800 vertical meters to get to the Terrihutte, which is a beautiful stone structure on a point at the head of a valley.
One of many stream crossings
Souzz and Reto
Another stream crossing
A beautiful spot!
the last leg of the hike
I look like I am helping Souzz through a tough section, but Reto actually did the hard part.
The Terrihutte was built in 1925, although it has been renovated and expanded multiple times since. It has space for 110 in shared bunk rooms, as well as a full kitchen and a bar with cold beer and wine (as with most huts, restocking is done by helicopter). It also has electric power generated from the creek below, quite the luxury.
Food at the hut was simple but hearty. Potatoes, meats, soup, breads, butter, and salads are typical, all served family style in a dining room that offers ridiculous views.
ok, so it’s cloudy…but a pretty cool view
Mashed potatoes and meat
A busy room
Huts kind of have some views
The huts are also highly social places, even if you don’t speak the language. We were generally sitting across the table from someone who hiked the same hard kilometers that we did, which means we had a few things in common–including sore feet and tired legs. And, despite our ugly American language skills, many of our fellow hikers were gracious enough to reach out in English (which was a good thing, as hearing Reto and his family laugh as I tried to say the word for “three” in Swiss German wasn’t very encouraging).
We filled our water bottles here
A charging station in the backcountry, pure magic!
Souzz in our dorm-style room
The next day we headed up and over our high point at Greina Pass (2703 meters) to theMedelserhutte. It was a 15 kilometer hike, including some scrambling and a descent of a long snowfield. There were also some really fun glissades (the easy part) before a short ascent to the hut.
Headed up to the pass
Capricorn against the snow
With Reto at Greina Pass
Headed down the snowfield
Glissading is fun, no matter how old you are!
With Souzz, looking down the pass
The Medelserhutte is in a saddle with a commanding view to the west. It is a smaller hut than the Terrehutte, with 55 bunks, but still plenty roomy. Despite an early-ish start to our hike, we didn’t get there until nearly 6pm–but that was still enough time to catch sun on the back patio and watch Capricorns (a type of bighorn sheep) run the hillside.
Looking down valley
An inviting front door
A room with a view!
Rooms were pretty nice
I guess I’m not much of a conversationalist
Souzz and Reto
Reto spies some Capricorns
Our entire route
Soaking in the sun after a big day
Capricorns roaming the hillside
Looking back, Reto and Annika made it easy for us to do something that would have been very hard for us to do on our own (impossible?!), and for that we are very grateful. Visiting Switzerland with their help was priceless, spending time with them and their children before and after our hike was a treasure, and we are still glowing about our trip.
As for our time in the huts, I caught myself wondering how the Swiss built these places. But mostly I wondered why my legs were so sore. And then I wondered what another beer would taste like.
My buddy Rick and I just got back to Virginia after spending a week touring the Yukon by dog team. Friends of ours, Wayne and Scarlett Hall, run a dogsledding business out of Eagle, Alaska, calledBush Alaska Expeditions, and they hooked us up with a great tour. Even getting to Eagle is a bit of an adventure, requiring a ride on the mail plane out of Fairbanks. Once in Eagle, we met up with another friend and guide,expert musher Nate Becker, before heading for the hills.
The mail plane out of Fairbanks
On short final in Eagle
Another shot of downtown Eagle
Wayne and Scarlett’s homestead
Rick, Nate, me
Sleds at the ready
The country around Eagle has a long and interesting history, including a number of different Athabaskan tribes, fur trading dating back to the 1700s, and the 1896 Klondike Gold Rush that started near Dawson City (150 miles upriver). During the gold rush, people came north with big dreams, and some made (and lost) fortunes. Place names like Last Chance Creek, Bonanza Creek, and Hard Luck Creek tell a part of the story.
The Chilkoot Pass trail at the height of the gold rush
A dog team in Dawson in 1899
Prospectors hard at work
Skookum Jim Mason, largely credited with the discovery that started the gold rush (photo by Joseph Duclos)
Routes to the Klondike (photo courtesy of NPS)
Our trip felt like a moving tribute to the hardy souls that lived and thrived up there a hundred or more years ago, almost like time travel. Back in the day, the frozen Yukon River was traveled by legends like Percy DeWolfe, who carried the mail back and forth between Dawson and Eagle from 1910 to 1949….when it costs 3 cents to send a first class letter. Another notable resident was Harry Karstens, nicknamed the Seventymile Kid, who came from Chicago to prospect for gold before becoming a “packer” hauling mining supplies for other prospectors. Karstens went on to lead the first ascent of Mount McKinley (now Denali) in 1912 and later became the superintendent of Mount McKinley National Park.
Percy DeWolfe, the “Iron Man of the North,” in 1938. Photo courtesy of Yukon Archives. Claude and Mary Tidd Fonds
Another shot of Percy DeWolfe, who delivered the mail up here by dog team
The mail run from Dawson to Eagle in 1900
Fish wheels are used to harvest fish for dog food
A dog team leaves the village of Circle in the early 1900s
Eagle in 1900
Harry Karstens in 1927
Chris “Phonograph” Nelson, a trapper who built one of the cabins where we stayed
During the course of our week, the rich history of the Yukon revealed some of itself to us through the cabins along the river. A few of the cabins were historic, a few were relatively new, and a few were somewhere in between–but all were remarkable in their own way. The one constant is that they were generally spaced about a day’s mushing apart–which was good forethought by the folks that built these places. Cabins along the Tatonduk River, the Nation River, and the Seventymile River were a welcome sight after a long day on the trail, just as they would have been in the early 1900s.
Chris “Phonograph” Nelson’s cabin, built in 1934. He was called “phonograph” for his habit of repeating himself when he told stories
Drying out inside the Tatonduk River Cabin
The bear cache and cabin at Nation Bluff
some light reading
Hard Luck Cabin
A half-barrel stove in one of our cabins
Salmon drying on a fish rack
Nation Bluff Cabin
Hard Luck Cabin
Nation Bluff Cabin
Graffiti, northern style
Nate hanging by the stove
Beaver Pond Cabin
I’m sometimes asked why I am so captivated by Alaska, and I answer that it’s because it’s the way the world used to be. During the course of the week, it was easy to wonder what it must have been like back in the day–and each time that I stopped to warm my fingers, I was reminded that I probably wouldn’t have had what it took. I have no idea how people thrived in this land before fancy down jackets, goretex gloves, and bunny boots. That said, it was also inspiring to spend time with some of the people that are thriving there now, like Wayne, Scarlett, Nate, and Nate’s wife Ruby.
Wayne, Scarlett, Rick
Nate and Ruby
Our wonderful hosts obviously made this trip possible–but it’s also important to call out the true stars of the the week: those incredible canine athletes. One thing that I’m pretty sure hasn’t changed in the last 100 years is that Alaskan huskies are phenomenally fit, loyal, and eager to run. They are also incredibly reliable, as a dog team never breaks down on the trail (unlike a snowmachine…or snowmobile, in case you don’t speak Alaskan). Each morning, those huskies were ready to take us anywhere that we had the skills to go, and they also seemed completely impervious to the cold. As I adjusted layers a thousand times on the back of the sled, I remembered that my dog team was wearing exactly the same thing that it had on last summer.
Banshee and Peggy
After rolling in snow to cool off at 25 below
Headed down river
The team during a rest
In action headed up the Tatonduk
Are you ready to run?!
After an amazing week, Rick and I came back from the Yukon with a new appreciation for the way the world used to be, and the way that it still is…at least up there.
We closed out our trip to Newfoundland with a hike in Little Cove, just south of the village of Twillingate. Our hike took us to Jones Cove and then up and over the ridge toLower Little Harbour.
The Twillingate hiking website listed this particular hike as easy, but we found it to be a bit more—four or so miles with a lot of up and down. Perhaps this was due to weather in the low 50s (Fahrenheit) and high winds (25-30 mph gusts), or maybe we are just flatlander tourists. In any case, the hiking was interesting, with sections of heavy forest, sections of bare rock, a summit ridge, and even a short stretch of rocky beach.
Along the way, we passed a natural arch and the remains of a settlement from the 1930s, including what was left of a restaurant called Kelley’s Sunset Chat. Our hike was a nice mix of nature, history, and exercise–including some scrambling and some up-hill climbs.
Souzz up on the ridge above Jones Cove
A wooded section of trail
Great views to the east
Colors are changing
Beautiful natural arch
A root cellar from the 1930s
Kelley’s Sunshine Chat restaurant, from the 1930s
Back in Twillingate atOceanview Retreat, we closed out our stay with another interesting Newfoundland dish,seafood chowder. It’s pretty clear why I haven’t lost weight on this trip.
Fresh north Atlantic salmon
local carrots, celery, onion
mixing in savory and pepper
Some other local dishes this week includedNewfoundland fish cakes, pickled herring, and fried dulse. Menu staples here are highly seasonal, revolve around the sea as well as roots and berries, and have a simple charm about them.
Dulse, a local seaweed
Lots of ways to prepare dulse
Somehow this looked better in the jar
We are back in Virginia now, but we have some great memories of “The Rock,” as Newfoundland is often called. We didn’t know much about any of these places before planning this trip, and now we’ll never forget them. The culture is interesting, the people are amazingly friendly…and there is so much more to see.
On our way to the airport in Gander, Souzz uttered the telltale phrase that marks the end of a great vacation: “I wish we had one more day.”
We’ve been having fun in and around Twillingate, Newfoundland, for the past few days. That includes a visit toAuk Island Winery, some hiking, and a sampling of some of the local seafood. We’re up here in shoulder season, so a lot of businesses aren’t open…but we pretty much have the place to ourselves (along with 2,500 delightfully friendly residents).
Of course, thehiking trailsaround Twillingate don’t ever really close down (depending on your tolerance for cold weather, I guess), and we had an awesome day for a hike. After a visit to Crow Head andLong Point Lighthouse, we enjoyed hikes to French Beach and French Head. The views were stunning, the sky was crystal blue, and we were the only folks around.
Long Point Lighthouse
The red roof of the lighthouse keeper’s residence
Court enjoying the afternoon light
Not a lot of right angles around here
Skies seem brighter in the far north
Near French Head
Near French Beach
Court hiking up from French Head
Looking across to Twillingate
One of many freshwater ponds on Twillingate Island
The rental car place in Gander comped us on 4WD…not a bad thing!
Souzz in one of the more wooded sections of French Head
As nice as the hiking was, the highlight of the day was our visit to Auk Island Winery, where we chatted with our friendly host, Nicole, for nearly an hour. She shared a lot of insight into their berry wines, and also shared her love for Twillingate and the surrounding country. We covered a lot of ground, including stories of Nicole’s travels to the Dominican Republic and Cuba, and a brief conversation about her experience during 9-11.
During high season, 100+ customers pack in here
Some interesting products
Care for some wine?
Tours are a big seller in season
Ice wines with a twist…icebergs are used in the process
Souzz and Nicole, our lovely host
Shelves and shelves of berry wine
Not much to add here
The sign board at a local restaurant shows how much work that Auk Island Winery puts into finding the right ingredients
Touristy, I know…
Our cottage in Twillingateis really terrific, located up on a bluff overlooking the harbour with windows across the whole back of the place. I’ve gotten more vitamin D on the porch here in the last few days than in the last month. And Souzz has spent every possible moment enjoying the sounds of the waves slapping against the rocks in Twillingate Harbour. The cottage also includes a full kitchen, which is a great luxury.
The front porch
A nice view of the harbour
I’m going to need help moving that anchor
I tried the guitar and wasn’t so good
Alpenglow over town as sunset approaches
As for the kitchen, we’ve continued our obsession with local cuisines and regional dishes. Our menu has included cod, Atlantic salmon, mussels, and lobster. Also on the list is a locally bottled rum calledScreech, a brand that has been somewhat taken over by tourists but is a regional specialty just the same.
As the Screech story goes, an American military officer stationed here back in the day let out a loud screech the first time he took a shot. Whether that is true or not is hardly the point. We tried it straight up, and also made our own signature cocktail with pineapple juice and cinnamon, which Souzz called a Twillingate Tangle. Pineapples and cinammon aren’t native to Newfoundland, but neither are we–so we figured why not.
A “Twillingate Tangle”…or maybe “Screech on the Beach”
Souzz and Screech
Adding pineapple juice
a little cinnamon
In addition to the cod, salmon, and Screech, there are some more obscure traditional foods, likeseal flipper pie, pickled herring, and a natural sea vegetable calleddulse. We are still looking for seal flipper pie (it’s out of season, much to Souzz’s relief), but we have found the herring and the dulse and they are on the menu for the next few nights (wish me luck).
So far, our dinners have includedcod au gratin, steamed mussels, maple smoked salmon, and lobster risotto (ok, so risotto isn’t really a Newfoundland dish). As I watch the waves roll in, I appreciate that the ocean is the source for food here more often than not. Let’s hope that Souzz agrees. 🙂
We just headed off to Gander, Newfoundland for a quick trip. So where is Gander, you might ask? We knew this place was a bit off the beaten path when we checked into our flights on Air Canada, and Jessie, the Air Canada agent, asked “is Gander in Canada?”
Gander is a town of 10,000 that has an airport with a big runway and a lot of aviation history. A walk through town reveals streets named after Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, Eddie Richenbacker, and Chuck Yeager. Gander was a stopover for almost all trans-Atlantic flights back in the day—until fuel capacities got bigger in the 1970s. And Gander continues to be a safe haven for flights over the North Atlantic that have mechanical problems (thankfully, that wasn’t us).
Gander is indeed in Canada (as of 1949)
Our hotel, the Albatross Inn
Gander also had a big role in helping the world on September 11, 2001, when US-bound planes were diverted here and6500 passengers spent five days in townwaiting for US airspace to re-open. The town’s population nearly doubled in just a few hours, and the people of Gander answered the call. They opened their homes to total strangers, the hockey rink was converted to a giant refrigerator to store food for the “plane people,” and citizens made weary travelers feel as comfortable as they could (imagine hearing this: “Hi, welcome to Walmart. Would you like to come to our house and take a shower?”).
Gander on 9-11, with 38 planes grounded
Gander’s post-9/11 role was largely overlooked at the time, but it is an amazing story—even inspiring a musical that is playing now at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC called “Come from Away.” One of the many passengers stranded in Gander back in 2001 was so touched that she started a highly successfulscholarship programfor the high school in nearby Lewisporte. The stories from that time offered a ray of hope in the midst of a very dark time.
As for us, we took in a few local sites, including the Silent Witness Memorial, and then stopped by the North Atlantic Aviation Museum. The museum offered up some fascinating artifacts from Newfoundland’s rich aviation history, as well as a few more reminders of 9-11 (including a piece of steel from one of the Twin Towers).
The front of the museum, unintentionally ironic
A PBY-Catalina, part of sea rescue in World War II
A Link Trainer, another classic!
A piece of the twin towers, given to Gander to acknowledge all of the town’s help to passengers diverted on 9-11.
A letter displayed in the museum
9-11 thank you
9-11 thank you
9-11 thank you
From Gander, we headed on toTwillingate, about an hour and a half north, where we’ve rented a cottage overlooking the harbor. We are going to take in as much local culture as we can, hike a bunch, cook up some local treats, and perhaps learn a little more about a corner of the world that we don’t know that much about.
The east coast has some fun destinations, including Great North Mountain, which forms the border between Virginia and West Virginia for about 50 miles. Much of the mountain is above 3000 feet, so the views across neighboring valleys are among the best around. The area also has a well-developed trail system, including a few summits that offer 360-degree views (ok, so I guess you can actually see in multiple directions from any place).
I have backpacked past this modest 10 foot square stone structure many times, dating back to the mid-1980s, and have always been curious about it. I was invited inside once by a few new friends on a rainy day, but I had never stayed there–until this past weekend.
Sugar Knob Cabin, 1987
Sugar Knob Cabin, 2016
A little (ok, a lot) thinner in 1987, carrying my North Face BackMagic pack, state of the art for the time
30 years later, still in orange
The cabin is at the top of the yellow-blazed trail
Souzz and I arrived at the trailhead on Forest Service Road 92 on Saturday morning, heavy on food but light on everything else. We carried just a small butane stove, a first aid kit, headtorches, a small lantern, a water filter, a few extra clothes…and thefrybake, which I carry with me at all times (in case somebody needs an emergency casserole). As for water, there’s a spring not far from the cabin, and we’d been told that the cabin was stocked with pots, pans, utensils, axes, a wood stove, and pretty much anything else we were likely to need.
The hike in was steady uphill (1500 feet of elevation gain), but not too steep. Little Stony Creek runs right along much of the trail, and there were some nice views as we got closer to the ridge. The hike seemed longer than three miles, suggesting that the map is wrong…or perhaps suggesting that most hikers don’t carry a 6-pack, a bag of charcoal, a mini-cooler, and a four course meal.
Souzz is always faster than me on the trail
Broad daylight, headtorch turned on, you do the math
As for Bigfoot, a hiker wrote that his group was staying in Sugar Knob Cabin and saw “a dark, very hairy large face looking at us about a foot outside the window.” Hmm…that sounds suspiciously like just about everybody I’ve ever hiked with (except Souzz).
A still from the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film, which started the Bigfoot craze
Maybe what was seen through the window?
A bigfoot researcher’s journal entry
ok, so we stole this from a tv ad
With no Bigfoot sightings to amuse us, we were left to enjoy this fabulous spot. Sugar Knob Cabin is cozy and quaint, and one could almost feel the history of the place. Looking around inside at the stonework and the wood stove, I wondered what those walls would say if they could talk (perhaps something like “man, Souzz’s husband is a total blowhard.”)
Arriving at Sugar Knob Cabin
Home away from home
Lots of directions inside
lots of pots and pans!
Souzz writes in the logbook
As for dinner, we started with cheese and salami, then moved on to steamed mussels and fresh-baked bread (from the frybake). The mussels appetizer was pre-cooked with tomato and garlic sauce by a company calledBantry Bay. We highly recommend this dish–but I suppose there is a carbon impact when one eats mussels from Chile sold by an Irish company while hiking in the Blue Ridge. All told, it did feel like a big foot print (so to speak).
Bantry Bay Mussels
The finished product, 5 minutes later, along with bread in the frybake
We followed the mussels with filet mignon, mashed fingerling potatoes, and green beans with mushrooms. It was great to eat next to the fire, and the weather was perfect.
dinner is served
Are we ready to eat yet?
After dinner, we enjoyed the fire, made “break and bake” cookies in the frybake, and marveled at the beautiful starry night sky.
As we soaked in the sounds of crickets and tree frogs, all was well in our world–until Souzz was startled by a huge, smelly, hairy creature tromping around near the cabin.
After attending a great wedding in Homer and then visitingTutka Bay Yurt, we closed out our recent Alaska trip with a stay at Water’s Edge Cabin–a fabulous property near Homer that overlooks Halibut Cove Lagoon. Like the yurt, the cabin is well managed by Alison, Melanie, and the great folks atTrue North Kayak Adventures.
Water’s Edge is about 40 minutes by water taxi from Homer, and it offers a lot of things that most Alaskan cabins don’t—like a propane stove, a propane oven, running water (albeit stream water that needs to be filtered), oil lights, and a propane refrigerator (!). There’s no electricity, but that’s part of the charm (and who needs electricity, anyway?). Overall, the amenities at Water’s Edge are rivaled only by the view…well, actually, the view surpasses them!
The covered porch was awesome, as was waking up in the second floor loft. The cabin was built with windows from floor to ceiling, so Halibut Cove Lagoon was with us every step of the way. The lagoon is full of life, including bald eagles, sea otters, loons, the occasionalDall’s Porpoise, and probably a lot of other stuff we never even saw. The sounds alone, including loons and a ton of bird life, were amazing.
Over the course of the next four days, we hiked on the awesome trail system in Katchemak Bay State Park, we kayaked, we cooked (of course), and we spent as much time as we could on that amazing porch.
is it still called a selfie if its two of us?
Souzz spent a lot of time in this spot
Pretty sure that’s a loon.
The back deck is nice and sunny!
Darkness in Alaska in the summer!
Souzz loves her coffee
Warming things up
In addition to the fridge and stove/oven, Water’s Edge boasts a spacious kitchen that was very well stocked. Forgot cumin? No problem, it’s right there on the shelf. Need more olive oil? Got it. It was a luxury for us to have so much room to cook, and so many supplies on hand.
A beer cozie from the wedding
Need a spice?
A water filter, very handy
Our home kitchen isn’t this well equipped (although we did bring the box of wine)
One of the two dishwashers
Souzz hard at work
A mystery kitchen gadget
Souzz schemes another meal
With access to a fridge, we were able to have a fresh seafood theme on the trip–with halibut, king salmon, and king crab headlining the menus.
King Crab legs
Nice to cook with a view
celery, leeks, garlic
King Salmon over lentils, onions, leeks, carrots, and celery
Breakfast, pretty standard
ok, so not everything was seafood
For the halibut, we used our friend Steve’s recipe. He cubes halibut into one inch squares, dips them in pancake batter, then rolls in Panko, and fries the cubes in an oil that can handle high temperature (peanut oil, grapeseed oil, etc.). Steve tells us he just made up the recipe, quite the imagination. I imagine we are going to be making this dish again.
Halibut chopped into squares
soaking in pancake batter
Rolling in Panko
Ready to serve
Halibut with broccoli and potatoes a al savoyard
Dinner is served
A highlight of our trip was our kayak/hike toGrewink Glacier. It was fun to combine a paddle and a hike, as getting to the trail head required timing the tides pretty carefully. It was also a great chance for Souzz to be Survivor Woman, as I forgot to bring rope to secure our kayak. With the tide rising, Souzz scrounged a piece of rope off of an old buoy on the beach and saved the trip!
Sunshine at the start…but not for long
Lots of starfish
There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear. 🙂
Marine life everywhere
Lots of beautiful scenes on our hike
Tide charts are critical
We took the Saddle Trail
Grewink Glacier was stunning, even though the weather was pretty spotty on our visit.
We can see the glacier in the distance
Lots of floating ice
It’s early August, but it’s fall in Alaska
The obligatory couple shot.
In addition to paddling and hiking, we fished, we pickedblueberries,salmon berries, andwatermelon berries, we read, and we relaxed a lot on that amazing porch. We got into the easy pace of the lagoon, and yet the days seemed to fly by. When our water taxi came to bring us back to Homer, we really didn’t want to leave.
Floating docks are handy for fishing, but we were a little early for silvers
We didn’t eat these, but they were everywhere
lots of good reading at the cabin
Souzz relaxing after a long paddle
Highbush blueberries, what a treat!
Alaska is a big geography and we try not to visit the same place twice. But this was a magical place with a magical pace, and we might just need to go back.